Today seems an appropriate date to break the hiatus in posting. The break has not been intentional and after this post it may well continue for some time. The reason I’ve seized the day today is because the date seems significant. I’m getting closer and closer to the last of the firsts.
Every day of the last, now almost, 365 days, has been some kind of first for me. Wednesday, March 20th 2013 marked the first full day of the first year of life without Annie since the day we were married on August 4th, 2001. There’s something about the first year after a loved one passes which is uniquely significant among the subsequent years that may follow. Every day of time is unknown to us, but there’s something about that first year which is uniquely unknown for a new widow or widower. And now, that year is almost complete. I have eighteen days left of those firsts. I’m nearing the last of the firsts.
I used one of those date calculators to give me the stats regarding how much time has passed since Annie passed away.
- 346 days
- 49 weeks and 3 days.
- 8,304 hours.
- 498,240 minutes.
- 29,894,400 seconds.
The stats are not nearly as staggering as the agony that has filled some of those units of time. I don’t want to exaggerate. Many of those moments of time have been quite ordinary and pleasant and good and full of joy and hope and peace and assurance. I may be without Annie but I am not without Jesus. But there have been times when I have just wished I could sleep and not wake up again until my eyes open in heaven.
What I am about to say, I say carefully and thoughtfully. I don’t think any of the last twelve months have been as difficult for me as the previous three. The worst thing about December was that it crept up on me in a way that I did not expect. I thought I was making good strides to get through Christmas well. And once it came, I was anxious for the Christmas season to just pass quickly. That’s something I really hate doing. I hate wishing time away. It betrays so much that was precious to me from God’s Word back in the weeks just after Annie was called home. However, January was altogether something else.
I don’t want to explain the details. But I just want readers to know that although January was in some way, emotionally agonising, I believe it has been necessary agony for moving forward through a transition which I was sure I’d never need to move through. There’s a fine – almost invisible – line between recalling and enjoying past memories and living presently in the past – not letting go; to one belongs blessings, to the other crippling curses. In the last few months, God has helped me to find that line and is teaching me the difference. I’m learning to let go.
Letting go when the time for her departure was near, was a key theme that Annie attempted to prepare me for over and over. And over and over (and over) again I resisted to embrace that. She talked often and openly and explicitly about me moving forward if the time should come when she would depart for Jesus. The closest I ever got to acknowledging it was during the preparation for her baptism (now almost a year ago). It was then we both shared a synchronised moment in time; so special and so sacred that it felt outside of time or a moment when time simply stopped; in that stillness, we knew that my role was not just to prepare her for baptism but to prepare her as a bride for her divine groom – the eternal lover of her soul. That was less than a week before she was called home; and in her hospice room that night as I laid out her clothes and dried her hair, we both knew the symbolism of baptism was going to be especially significant.
But it’s hard to let go.
You may have noticed it through my vocabulary – I’d still often refer to her as ‘my’ Annie; and I’m not beating myself up about that. In fact, I think I remember openly posting about that very thing just after she had passed away. However, beneath the vocabulary of possessive pronouns was a much firmer grip on Annie which has affected every part of my present and how I perceived my future. This was another reason why January has been such a painful month – it feels like God has been taking me through a transition that was not part of my plan. In boxing (I’m told) they say “It’s the ones you don’t see that always hurt the most!” And this was a transition I just didn’t see coming.
Through all this, I have simply fallen into the arms of Jesus. There’s no other way I can express what exactly I have done or how I have exercised or practiced my faith. I’ve just immersed myself in His presence, reading His Word, singing and sobbing in praise and prayer. The Christian books that I want to read (and will!) mount up on my desk as my soul thirsts for more time listening to Jesus in His own words.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee
Am I out of the transition?
I don’t really know. I didn’t expect to be in it so I feel it’s probably wise not to plan an exit strategy! I think I am still in it but the most painful parts – for now – have passed. The stages and transitions really don’t matter as much as enjoying the Presence of the Lord Jesus irrespective of what’s happening around me.
A few weeks ago, our lead worshipper, Paul, opened our Sunday service on the morning I was due to preach on the parable of the sower. I probably spoke for about fifty minutes but what the Lord said through Paul in probably no more than two minutes that morning, was a message that I will never forget. You remember some sermons like it was just you and God in that sanctuary; this was a message that I will never forget. He read a few verses from Deuteronomy 3 and then said a few words focussed on verse 24.
“Sovereign Lord, You have begun to show to Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand.” – Deuteronomy 3:24
He commented that these were the words of Moses who had already seen God do so much. He’d witnessed the powerful hand of God in staggering ways; if ever there was a man who could testify that God was faithful and powerful, it was Moses. And yet, after being used by God to deliver the people of Israel out of the hands of probably the most powerful man and nation on the planet at the time; after leading the people of Israel through the Red Sea and watching it envelop and devour Pharaoh’s mighty army, Moses comes before God and says “You’ve only just begun to show me Your power!”
As I heard those words, I heard God speak to me great words of comfort, confidence and joy regarding where I now am at in life. I didn’t do very well that Sunday in reserving my emotions until I was home alone – my usual practice! If I hadn’t had the responsibility of feeding the flock that morning, I could have gone home a well-fed and well-watered worshipper!
In the last few months I’ve wrestled with lack of sleep and a very poor appetite but I feel that now turning a corner. Tiredness is presently consuming me and I will have to end and send this post.
I just want you to know again, that Jesus the Shepherd is as good in the valleys as He is on the mountain tops. I wouldn’t be here or want to be here without Him. He makes everything good! He makes the worst, good. The worst of circumstances and the worst of sinners. He is the delight of my heart.
On an unrelated note, a number of people have asked me if I plan to do anything special to mark the day on March 19th. I’ve given this thought and while I encourage you to do as you feel lead, my answer is to that question, is no. It’s not that I am not planning to do something formally; it’s rather that I am planning to not do something formally. I trust you will appreciate that.
In His Arms,
The date had me thinking of you and I turned to the blog for the first time in ages to see if you were still on. My thoughts have been with you a lot and I sincerely hope this last first helps your progress into the next stage of your grief. We all lost the Joy that was knowing Annie but you lost so much more and I will always think of her as your Annie too, it was so from so early in you relationship her face lit up when she spoke of you.
Stay strong Ryan, love suex
Thank you so much for this update, Ryan. What to say is hard for those of us who’ve never trodden your path, but we do want you to know that we pray for you regularly, that the Lord will pour his comfort over you at all times, and even more so when the pain is greatest.
We have a young couple in our church who are treading that same path that you and Annie trod. Your journal has helped us to understand something of what they are going through and how best to pray for them. Numbers 6:24-26 says it all.
Yes, it was so good to hear from you and to read a little about the path that He is taking you on. May the Lord becoming sweeter to you as you let go and move deeper into Him. With love Gill and Mark.
Thank you for updating us on how you are, you are always in our prayers, especially this month. Just reading “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength ” Isaiah CH 40 v 31, may your strength be renewed in the coming days ,
Praying with you through the valley, Ry. In His peace, Mark and Margaret Litten
Oh, Ryan, a picture of you and Annie is on the bulletin board in my office. I have thought and prayed for you often and will continue to do so. You are in my heart. Psalm 20:7 has been written on the board next to my desk for the last year and a half. Many students and other faculty have commented on it. It has helped several students realize where their trust and strength come from. I was talking to one girl named Liz a couple of months ago. Her mother was dying from cancer. (The mom died within the month.) Liz looked at the verse and talked about how she needed that reminder to trust God no matter what. I could go on with several other stories like this, but I won’t. Just know that your witness of God’s strength, goodness, and complete love is having far-reaching effects. Peace to you, my friend.